Sorting out Jets' complicated QB situation not as easy as 1-2-3

Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg are being joined in the Jets' quarterback room by Teddy Bridgewater and first-rounder Sam Darnold. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Now that Bryce Petty is gone, released Thursday in an expected move, the New York Jets are down to four quarterbacks. Four is a conventional number for this time of the year, but there's nothing conventional about their quarterback situation.

A lot can happen in the next few months in terms of the starting job and backup roles. A ranking of the various permutations for Week 1, from most likely to least likely:

1. Josh McCown, Sam Darnold -- The Jets haven't gone with only two since 2013 (Geno Smith and Matt Simms), but it's the best approach for the sake of Darnold's development -- and that's what matters most. It wouldn't make sense if he's buried at the bottom of a three-man depth chart. If healthy, Teddy Bridgewater could be trade bait if he plays well in the preseason. If not, he can be released with only a $500,000 cap hit. Adios, Christian Hackenberg.

2. McCown, Bridgewater, Darnold -- We'll call this the traditional setup because coach Todd Bowles always has carried at least three. The upside is they'd have plenty of veteran insurance, not a bad way to go when you consider the injury histories for McCown and Bridgewater. The downside: If Darnold emerges as the starter, the Jets would be spending $16 million for two veteran backups. Of course, they could carry Bridgewater with the hope of moving him before the midseason trading deadline. Another team is bound to lose a quarterback along the way.

3. Bridgewater, Darnold -- Before his devastating knee injury in 2016, Bridgewater was a solid game manager (17-11 for the Minnesota Vikings). If his surgically repaired knee obliges, he conceivably could crush the preseason and beat out McCown. At 25, Bridgewater certainly has more upside. If they cut McCown, 38, they'd have to eat a $5 million guarantee (half his base salary). Another factor to consider: Darnold would lose the ideal mentor -- and the team would lose a leader -- if McCown is jettisoned.

4. McCown, Darnold, Hackenberg -- If general manager Mike Maccagnan gets stubborn and refuses to admit his Hackenberg mistake, he could give the former second-round pick another shot as a third-stringer. But what's the point? It's time to cut bait. Plus, it would be unfair to Hackenberg. After two years as the No. 1 project, he'd be the forgotten man in the quarterback room.

5. Bridgewater, Darnold, Hackenberg -- See above.

6. McCown, Bridgewater, Darnold, Hackenberg -- The Jets did the four-quarterback thing in 2016, and it didn't benefit anybody. There's no need to recreate that cumbersome dynamic.